Humans are more educated than ever about the ingredients in their own food, so it’s little wonder they also inspect the products for their companions. Add to that the pet food recalls from the last decade, and the dog food industry has witnessed unprecedented focus on diets being sourced and made in the U.S.
"We see pet parents becoming increasingly educated and making more informed decisions about what ingredients they choose for their pets," said Rashell Cooper, marketing director for Redbarn Pet Products in Long Beach, Calif. "Our research suggests that choosing products made in the USA will continue to be a huge selling point for customers."
Holly Sher, president of Evanger’s Dog & Cat Food Co. in Wheeling, Ill., reported seeing pet specialty retailers offer separate USA-made sections as well as entire stores that only carry USA-made products.
A Natural Pet Pantry in Osprey, Fla., has maintained a "nothing made in China" policy during its six years in operation, said co-owner Michelle McConnell, and when My Pet Market (formerly Choice Pet Market), which has locations in Arizona, selects products for the stores, it chooses unique offerings that typically are USA-made, said COO Andy Avigdor.
Foods containing no gluten, as well as limited and all-natural ingredients, have joined the current focus on grain-free food, insiders reported. These make up the minimum standard among top-tier dog foods, said Chad Tillman, national sales manager for Grizzly Pet Products in Woodinville, Wash.
"We now are seeing trends push toward not using synthetic ingredients, certified low-glycemic diets and ‘in-house’ manufacturing," he added.
Kelly Lain, manager at Dog City Bakery, which has stores in Marietta and Sandy Springs Ga., said that "raw is the biggest trend we see and love to grow as a company, and freeze-dried is blowing up as well. Within dry and canned foods, customers are watching how many and what carbs are in the foods and pushing away from grains—even peas."
Expanding U.S.-Made Selections
Grizzly Pet Products recently launched Grizzly Super Foods in Dehydrated Recipe and Oven Baked Recipe formulas. Made in the company’s Woodinville, Wash., facility, the ultra-premium diets feature Alaskan wild salmon as the first and main ingredient and contain only seven ingredients total. The certified low-glycemic foods are formulated to offer a balanced diet with no synthetic ingredients or preservatives, grains, gluten, potatoes, peas or legumes, said Chad Tillman, national sales manager for Grizzly Pet Products.
Another release in USA-made dog foods comes from Redbarn Pet Products, which is based in Long Beach, Calif. In April, Redbarn Pet Products will offer novel protein stews in venison, trout, duck and quail formulas.
Evanger’s Dog & Cat Food Co. is launching the Nothing Else line in Pork, Salmon, Beef, Chicken and Duck, part of the Against the Grain brand.
"Nothing Else only contains one ingredient, with not even water added," said Holly Sher, president of the Wheeling, Ill.-based company. "Everything we make is sourced and made in the USA, unless it’s for overseas and from customer request."
Explaining the Made-in-USA Difference
The prime reasons both retailers and manufacturers highlight the necessity of educating dog owners about USA-sourced and -made foods are health and safety.
"It’s essential for our customers to understand why their pets thrive on an ultra-premium diet," said Chad Tillman, national sales manager for Grizzly Pet Products in Woodinville, Wash. "Long life, healthy and happy pets, as well as lower long-term expenses and avoiding potential vet bills, shows why ultra-premium diets are in demand."
Michelle McConnell, co-owner of A Natural Pet Pantry in Osprey, Fla., agreed, adding that dog owners should understand the reasons for the cost difference as well.
"People need to understand why foods with real ingredients cost more than foods full of cheap fillers and byproducts," she said. "We also make sure consumers realize that USA-made and -sourced does not always mean better. While we do not want products from China, there are some USA-made and -sourced foods and treats that we will not stock because the ingredients are far below our in-store quality standards."
Knowing the right questions to ask and information to seek is key. While the U.S. does have controls supervising the ingredients in pet foods and industry participants said they are stricter than in many other countries, some corners can still be cut—to the detriment of pets.
"Because of regulatory loopholes, some manufacturers may convey a ‘made in America’ message to consumers, even though a raw material may have originated in China or another country," said Lanny Viegut, owner and CEO of Vital Essentials in Green Bay, Wis.
Conversation with customers is the leading method of educating dog owners about USA-made and -sourced foods.
"We start with, ‘What are you feeding right now?’ to know where they’re going and see if they’re already clued into some foods or starting at the bottom," said Kelly Lain, manager of Dog City Bakery, which has stores in Marietta and Sandy Springs, Ga. "Find out about allergies, affirm the food they’re using and suggest another option they might not have considered."
The Ways of Displays
Limited space in pet specialty stores makes creativity and organization essential. Both A Natural Pet Pantry in Osprey, Fla., and Dog City Bakery, which has stores in Marietta and Sandy Springs, Ga., reported that they categorize more by food type—such as raw, dehydrated, canned, dry, frozen, etc.—than by country of origin. And Dog City Bakery’s manager, Kelly Lain, added that they "try to keep displays clean, organized, [and as] easy to see and navigate as possible."
At My Pet Market (formerly Choice Pet Market), which has locations in Arizona, Andy Avigdor, COO, said dog foods are lined up in order of recommended preference, with the most supported first. Because all its preferred brands are made and sourced in the USA, Avigdor said the company "tags USA products so they stand out in the aisle, which sparks the question for consumers to ask employees why they should care about foods being USA made."
My Pet Market also has specific shelf talkers and labels with the American flag that say "USA made" to point consumers to those products, Avigdor said.
"Using an endcap to feature made-in-the-USA diets as a product of the month or moving them to the front of the store all work to aid retailers," said Rashell Cooper, marketing director for Redbarn Pet Products in Long Beach, Calif.
Lanny Viegut, owner and CEO of Vital Essentials in Green Bay, Wis., recommends that stores use bold, sturdy, eye-catching retail display racks.
"Stores have reported up to a 300 percent increase in sales when display racks are used," he said.